Monday, I gave a talk to the Southern California chapter of SCIP (Society of Commercial Intelligence Professionals) in Long Beach. This is a group of professionals who use their background and training in intelligence gathering for commercial purposes–meaning what is the competition doing and why. I was invited to give a prospective on how to do this in Russia. There are so many myths and misunderstandings about that country I was happy to try to make things a bit clearer. Seventeen years in business in Russia, six in residence, gives me a perspective “from the trenches.”
My message was called “Russia, Three Sides of the Coin.” I wanted to express the underlying cultural foundation that surfaces in often-unexpected ways when dealing with Russians. Much is changing there, but much stays the same. The Cold War memories and James Bond movies fill us with so much drama about it all. One of my sayings is that in Russia there is much secrecy, but no secrets. Also that the basis for success is group loyalty thorough genuine personal relationships, fairness, and strong knowledgeable leadership.
As a primer, I gave a quick glimpse of Russian history beginning in the late 900s including the warring princes of Kiev hiring the Varangian (Viking) prince Ruark to organize them, the choice of Greek Orthodoxy to control the people, and the start of Russia as a nation. The resulting formula for ruling Russia, according to Czar Nicholas I, was “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.”
I built a Power Point presentation which included maps illustrating the geographic and resulting religious uniqueness in Russia’s thousand year history and how that impacts the culture even in today’s supposedly borderless world. Maps showed what I call Russia’s “inconvenience of geography” with no natural borders, no free access to the sea, and all rivers running north into the Arctic except the Volga which empties into the land-locked Caspian.
A geopolitical comparison with America shows a natural island of security, two oceans with world class ports, two non-threatening neighbors, productive agricultural land with a river network flowing into the sea, and the center of global communications. Americans take this all for granted, but Russia sees it as the main threat to their “greatness.”
Yet, I pointed out, that Russia and Russians have a lot going for them. Their greatest asset is their “minds,” not their “mines” (meaning their ample natural resources.) Their intelligence, determination, and loyalty impressed me from the start. The proverbial readiness to say “no” I stressed was an opportunity to ask “how” and tap into their amazing resourcefulness. The Russian woman’s search for a “clever” man is her quest for a partner who knows how to get around the “no” of congenital Russian bureaucracy and get the job done.
After the talk, I got some interesting questions. One executive from a major international firm was questioning the value of certain personnel changes between L.A., London, and Moscow. One Russian, a consultant on business in Russia, agreed with my summations and added some interesting historical and other facts.
The audience was terrific, and it was a joy to have been invited by SCIP.